"O Mrs Dolly! a parson to swear!"
"There are different sorts of parsons, my dear. But old David thought it shocking, for he turns round to the chaplain, and saith he, 'Your pardon, Mr Howard, but gin ye'd give me leave, I'd be pleasit to swear the neist oath for ye. It would sound rather better, ye ken, for a cook than a chaplain.' 'Hurrah!' says the King, swearing himself, 'the sprightliest humour I heard of a long time! Pray you, silence, and hear old Davie swear!' 'I see nothing to swear anent the now, an' it please your Majesty,' says Davie, mighty dry again: 'when I do, your Majesty'll be sure to hear it.' The King laughed heartily, for he took Davie right enough, though I saw some look puzzled. Of course he never would see reason to do a sinful thing. But a new thought had come into the King's head, and he turns quick to Mr Howard, and desires that he would give exposition of the words that Davie had read. 'You ought to know what they mean, if we don't, poor sinners,' saith the King. 'I protest, Sire,' saith the chaplain, 'that I cannot so much as guess what they mean.' 'Now then, David the divine,' cries my Lord Rochester, 'your exposition, if you please.' And some of the courtiers, that by this time were not too sober, drummed on the table with glasses, and shouted for David's sermon."
"I think, Mrs Dolly, that was scarce proper, in the King's and Queen's presence."
"So I think, my dear. But King Charles's Court was Liberty Hall, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. But Davie stood very quiet, with the Bible yet open in his hands. He waited his master's bidding, if they did not. 'Oh ay, go on, Davie,' saith the King, leaning back in his chair and laughing. 'Silence for Mr David Armstrong's sermon!' cries my Lord Rochester, in a voice of a master of ceremonies. But Davie took no note of any voice but the King's, though 'twas to my Lord Rochester he addressed him when he spoke. 'That wine cheereth man, your Lordship very well knows,' quoth Davie, in his dry way: and seeing his Lordship had drank a bottle and a half since he sat down, I should think he did, my dears. 'But this, that wine cheereth God, is referable to the drink-offering commanded by God of the Jews, wherein the wine doth seem to typify the precious blood of Christ, and the thankfulness of him that hath his iniquity thereby purged away. For in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers you shall find this drink-offering termed "a sweet savour unto the Lord." And since nothing but Christ is a sweet savour unto God, therefore we judge that the wine of the drink-offering, like to that of the Sacrament, did denote the blood of Christ whereby we are redeemed; the one prefiguring that whereto it looked forward, as the other doth likewise figure that whereunto it looketh back. This, therefore, that wine cheereth God, is to be understood by an emblem, of the blood of Christ, our Mediator; for through this means God is well pleased in the way of salvation that He hath appointed, whereby His justice is satisfied. His law fulfilled, His mercy reigneth, His grace doth triumph, all His perfections do agree together, the sinner is saved, and God in Christ glorified. Now, Sire, I have done your bidding, and I humbly ask your Majesty's leave to withdraw.' The King said naught, but cast him a nod of consent. My dears, you never saw such a change as had come over that table. Every man seemed sobered and awed. The Queen was weeping, the King silent and thoughtful. My Lord Rochester, whom at that time nothing could sober long, was the only one to speak, and rising with make-believe gravity, as though in his place in the House of Lords, he offered a motion that the King should please to send Mr Howard into the kitchen to make kail, and raise the Reverend Mr David Armstrong to the place of chaplain."
"What is kail, Mrs Dolly?" asked Rhoda, laughing.
"'Tis Scots broth, my dear, whereof King Charles was very fond, and old David had been fetched from Scotland on purpose to make it for him."
"What a droll old man!" exclaimed Rhoda.
"Ah, he was one of the best men ever I knew," said Mrs Dorothy. "But, my dear, look at the clock!"
"I declare!" cried Rhoda. "Phoebe, we have but just time to run home ere supper, if so much as that. Good evening, Mrs Dolly, and thank you. What will Madam say?"
Note: David Armstrong is a historical person, and this anecdote is true. The surname given to him only is fictitious, as history does not record any name but "David."
THROUGH THORNY PATHS.
"I do repent me now too late of each impatient thought, That would not let me tarry out God's leisure as I ought."
"Is it long since Madam woke, Baxter?" cried Rhoda in a breathless whisper, as she came in at the side door.
"But this minute, Mrs Rhoda," answered he.
"That's good!" said Rhoda aside to Phoebe, and slipping off her shoes, she ran lightly and silently upstairs, beckoning her cousin to follow.
Phoebe, having no idea of the course of Rhoda's thoughts, obeyed, and followed her example in doffing her hood and smoothing her hair.
"Be quick!" said Rhoda, her own rapid movements over, and putting on her shoes again.
They found Madam looking barely awake, and staring hard at her book, as if wishful to persuade herself that she had been reading.
"I hope, child, you were not out all this time," said she to Rhoda.
"Oh no, Madam!" glibly answered that trustworthy young lady. "We only had a dish of tea with Mrs Dolly, and I made my compliments to the other gentlewomen."
"And where were you since, child?"
"We have been upstairs, Madam," said Rhoda, unblushingly.
"Not diverting yourselves, I hope?" was Madam's next question.
"Oh no, not at all, Madam. We were not doing anything particular."
"Talking, I suppose, as maids will," responded Madam. "Phoebe, to-morrow after breakfast bring all your clothes to my chamber. I must have you new apparelled."
"Oh, Madam, give me leave to come also!" exclaimed Rhoda, with as much eagerness as she ever dared to show in her grandmother's presence. "I would so dearly like to hear what Phoebe is to have! Only, please, not a musk-coloured damask—you promised me that."
"My dear," answered Madam, "you forget yourself. I cannot talk of such things to-day. You may come if you like."
Supper was finished in silence. After supper, a pale-faced, tired-looking young man, who had been previously invisible, came into the parlour, and made a low reverence to Madam, which she returned with a queenly bend of her head. His black cassock and scarf showed him to be in holy orders. Madam rang the hand-bell, the servants filed in, and evening prayers were read by the young chaplain, in a thin, monotonous voice, with a manner which indicated that he was not interested himself, and did not expect interest in any one else. Then the servants filed out again; the chaplain kissed Madam's hand, and wished her good-night, bowed distantly to Rhoda, half bowed to Phoebe, instantly drew himself up as if he thought he was making a mistake, and finally disappeared.
"'Tis time you were abed, maids," said Madam.
Rhoda somewhat slowly rose, knelt before her grandmother, and kissed her hand.
"Good-night, my dear. God bless thee, and make thee a good maid!" was Madam's response.
Phoebe had risen, and stood, rather hesitatingly, behind her cousin. She was doubtful whether Madam would be pleased or displeased if she followed Rhoda's example. In her new life it seemed probable that she would not be short of opportunities for the exercise of meekness, forbearance, and humility. Madam's quick eyes detected Phoebe's difficulty in an instant.
"Good-night, Phoebe," she said, rising.
"Good-night, Madam," replied Phoebe in a low voice, as she followed Rhoda. It was evident that no relationship was to be recognised.
"Here, you carry the candle," said Rhoda, nodding towards the hall table on which the candlesticks stood. "That's what you are here for, I suppose,—to save me trouble. Dear, I forgot my cloak,—see where it is! Bring it with you, Phoebe."
Demurely enough Rhoda preceded Phoebe upstairs. But no sooner was the bedroom door closed behind them, than Rhoda threw herself into the large invalid chair, and laughed with hearty amusement.
"Oh, didn't I take her in? Wasn't it neatly done, now? Didn't you admire me, Phoebe?"
"You told her a lie!" retorted Phoebe, indignantly.
"'Sh!—that's not a pretty word," said Rhoda, pursing her lips. "Say a fib, next time.—Nonsense! Not a bit of it, Phoebe. We had been upstairs since we came in."
"Only a minute," answered Phoebe. "You made her think what was not true. Father called that a lie,—I don't know what you call it."
"Now, Phoebe," said Rhoda severely, "don't you be a little Puritan. If you set up for a saint at White-Ladies, I can just tell you, you'll pull your own nest about your ears. You are mightily mistaken if you think Madam has any turn for saints. She reckons them designing persons— every soul of 'em. You'll just get into a scrape if you don't have a care."
Phoebe made no reply. She was standing by the window, looking up into the darkened sky. There were no blinds at White-Ladies.
It was well for Rhoda—or was it well?—that she could not just then see into Phoebe's heart. The cry that "shivered to the tingling stars" was unheard by her. "O Father, Father," said the cry. "Why did you die and leave your poor little Phoebe, whom nobody loves, whose love nobody wants, with whom nobody here has one feeling in common?" And then all at once came as it were a vision before her eyes, of a scene whereof she had heard very frequently from her father,—a midnight meeting of the Desert Church, in a hollow of the Cevennes mountains, guarded by sentinels posted on the summit,—a meeting which to attend was to brave the gallows or the galleys,—and Phoebe fancied she could hear the words of the opening hymn, as the familiar tune floated past her:—
"Mon sort n'est pas a plaindre, Il est a desirer; Je n'ai plus rien a craindre, Car Dieu est mon Berger."
It was a quiet, peaceful face which was turned back to Rhoda.
"Did you hear?" rather sharply demanded that young lady.
"Yes, I heard what you said," calmly replied Phoebe. "But I have been a good way since."
"A good way!—where?" rejoined her cousin.
"To France and back," said Phoebe, with a smile.
"What are you talking about?" stared Rhoda. "I said nothing about France; I was telling you not to be a prig and a saint, and make Madam angry."
"I won't vex her if I can help it," answered Phoebe.
"Well, but you will, if you set up to be better than your neighbours,— that's pos.! Take the pins out of my commode."
"Why should not I be better than my neighbours?" asked Phoebe, as she pulled out the pins.
"Because they'll all hate you—that's why. I must have clean ruffles— they are in that top drawer."
"Aren't you better than your neighbours?" innocently suggested Phoebe, coming back with the clean ruffles.
Rhoda paused to consider how she should deal with the subject. The question was not an easy one to answer. She believed herself very much better, in every respect: to say No, therefore, would belie her wishes and convictions; yet to say Yes, would spoil the effect of her lecture. There was moreover, a dim impression on her mind that Phoebe was incapable of perceiving the delicate distinction between them, which made it inevitable that Rhoda should be better than Phoebe, and highly indecorous that Phoebe should attempt to be better than Rhoda. On the whole, it seemed desirable to turn the conversation.
"Oh, not these ruffles, Phoebe! These are some of my best. Bring a pair of common ones—those with the box plaits.—What were you thinking about France?"
"Oh, nothing particular. I was only—"
"Never mind, if you don't want to tell," said Rhoda, graciously, now that her object was attained. "I wonder what new clothes Madam will give you. A camlet for best, I dare say, and duffel for every day. Don't you want to know?"
"No, not very much."
"I should, if I were you. I like to go fine. Not that she'll give you fine things, you know—not likely. There! put my shoes out to clean, and tuck me up nicely, and then if you like you can go to bed. I shan't want anything more."
Phoebe did as she was requested, and then knelt down.
"I vow!" exclaimed her cousin, when she rose. "Do you say your prayers on Sunday nights? I never do. Why, we've only just been at it downstairs. And what a time you are! I'm never more than five minutes with mine!"
"I couldn't say all I want in five minutes," replied Phoebe.
"Want! why, what do you want?" said Rhoda. "I want nothing. I've got to do it—that's all."
"Well, I dare say five minutes is enough for that," was the quiet reply from Phoebe. "But when people get into trouble, then they do want things."
"Trouble! Oh, you don't know!" said Rhoda, loftily. "I've had heaps of trouble."
"Have you?" innocently demanded Phoebe, in an interested tone.
"Well, I should think so! More than ever you had."
"What were they?" said Phoebe, in the same manner.
"Why, first, my mother died when I was only a week old," explained Rhoda. "I suppose, you call that a trouble?"
"Not when you were a week old," said Phoebe; "it would be afterwards— with some people. But I should not think it was, much, with you. You have had Madam."
"Well, then my father went off to London, and spent all his estate, that I should have had, and there was nothing left for me. That was a trouble, I suppose?"
"If you had plenty beside, I should not think it was."
"'Plenty beside!' Phoebe, you are the silliest creature! Why, don't you see that I should have been a great fortune, if I had had Peveril as well as White-Ladies? I should have set my cap at a lord, I can tell you. Only think, Phoebe, I should have had sixty thousand pounds. What do you say to that? Sixty thousand pounds!"
"I should think it is more than you could ever spend."
"Oh, I don't know about that," said Rhoda. "When White-Ladies is mine, I shall have a riding-horse and a glass coach; and I will have a splendid set of diamonds, and pearls too. They cost something, I can tell you. Oh, 'tis easy spending money. You'll see, when it comes to me."
"Are you sure it will come to you?"
"Why, of course it will!" exclaimed Rhoda, sitting up, and leaning on her elbow. "To whom else would Madam leave it, I should like to know! Why, you never expect her to give it to you, poor little white-faced thing? I vow, but that is a good jest!"
Rhoda's laugh had more bitterness than mirth in it. Phoebe's smile was one of more unmixed amusement.
"Pray make yourself easy," said Phoebe. "I never expect anything, and then I am not disappointed."
"Well, I'll just tell you what!" rejoined her cousin. "If I catch you making up to Madam, trying to please all her whims, and chime in with her vapours, and that—fancying she'll leave you White-Ladies—I tell you, Phoebe Latrobe, I'll never forgive you as long as I live! There!"
Rhoda was very nearly, if not quite, in a passion. Phoebe turned and looked at her.
"Cousin," she said, gently, "you will see me try to please Madam, since 'tis my duty: but if you suppose 'tis with any further object, such as what she might give me, you very ill know Phoebe Latrobe."
"Well, mind your business!" said Rhoda, rather fiercely.
A few minutes later she was asleep. But sleep did not visit Phoebe's eyes that night.
When the morning came, Rhoda seemed quite to have forgotten her vexation. She chattered away while she was dressing, on various topics, but chiefly respecting the new clothes which Madam had promised to Phoebe. If words might be considered a criterion, Rhoda appeared to take far more interest in these than Phoebe herself.
Breakfast was a solemn and silent ceremony. When it was over, Madam desired Phoebe to attend her in her own chamber, and to bring her wardrobe with her. Rhoda followed, unasked, and sat down on the form at the foot of the bed to await her cousin. Phoebe came in with her arms full of dresses and cloaks. She was haunted by a secret apprehension which she would not on any account have put into words—that she might no longer be allowed to wear mourning for her dead father. But Phoebe's fears were superfluous. Madam thought far too much of the proprieties of life to commit such an indecorum. However little she had liked or respected the Rev. Charles Latrobe, she would never have thought of requiring his child to lay aside her mourning until the conventional two years had elapsed from the period of his decease.
Phoebe's common attire was very quickly discarded, as past further wear; and she was desired to wear her best clothes every day, until new ones were ready for her. This decided, Rhoda was ordered to ring for Betty, Madam's own maid, and Betty was in her turn required to fetch those stuffs which she had been bidden to lay aside till needed. Betty accordingly brought a piece of black camlet, another of black bombazine, and a third of black satin, with various trimmings. The two girls alike watched in silence, while Betty measured lengths and cut off pieces of camlet and bombazine, from which it appeared that Phoebe was to have two new dresses, and a mantua and hood of the camlet: but when Rhoda heard Betty desired to cut off satin for another mantua, her hitherto concealed chagrin broke forth.
"Why, Madam!—she'll be as fine as me!"
"My dear, she will be as I choose," answered Madam, in a tone which would have silenced any one but Rhoda. "And now, satin for a hood, Betty—"
"'Tis a shame!" said Rhoda, under her breath, which was as much as she dared venture; but Madam took no notice.
"You will line the hoods and mantuas warm, Betty," pursued Madam, in her most amiable tone. "Guard the satin with fur, and the camlet with that strong gimp. And a muff she must have, Betty."
"A muff!" came in a vexed whisper from Rhoda.
"And when the time comes, one of the broidered India scarves that were had of Staveley, for summer wear; but that anon. Then—"
"But, Madam!" put in Rhoda, in a troubled voice, "you have never given me one of those scarves yet! I asked you for one a year ago." To judge from her tone, Rhoda was very near tears.
"My dear!" replied Madam, "'tis becoming in maids to wait till they are spoken to. Had you listened with proper respect, you would have heard me bid Betty lay out one also for you. You cannot use them at this season."
Rhoda subsided, somewhat discontentedly.
"Two pairs of black Spanish gloves, Betty; and a black fan, and black velvet stays. (When the year is out she must have a silver lace.) And bid Dobbins send up shoes to fit on, with black buckles—two pairs; and lay out black stockings—two pairs of silk, and two of worsted; and plain cambric aprons—they may be laced when the year is out. I think that is all. Oh!—a fur tippet, Betty."
And with this last order Madam marched away.
"Oh, shocking!" cried Rhoda, the instant she thought her grandmother out of hearing. "I vow, but she's going to have you as fine as me. Every bit of it. Betty, isn't it a shame?"
"Well, no, Mrs Rhoda, I don't see as how 'tis," returned Betty, bluntly. "Mrs Phoebe, she's just the same to Madam as you are."
"But she isn't!" exclaimed Rhoda, blazing up. "I'm her eldest daughter's child, and she's only the youngest. And she hasn't done it before, neither. Last night she didn't let her kiss her hand. I say, Betty, 'tis a crying shame!"
"Maybe Madam thought better of it this morning," suggested Betty, speaking with a pin in her mouth.
"Well, 'tis a burning shame!" growled Rhoda.
"Perhaps, Mrs Betty," said Phoebe's low voice, "you could leave the satin things for a little while?"
"Mrs Phoebe, I durstn't, my dear!" rejoined Betty; "nay, not if 'twas ever so! Madam, she's used to have folk do as she bids 'em; and she'll make 'em, too! Never you lay Mrs Rhoda's black looks to heart, my dear, she'll have forgot all about it by this time to-morrow."
Rhoda had walked away.
"But I shall not!" answered Phoebe, softly.
"Deary me, child!" said Betty, turning to look at her, "don't you go for to fret over that. Why, if a bit of a thing like that'll trouble you, you'll have plenty to fret about at White-Ladies. Mrs Rhoda, she's on and off with you twenty times a day; and you'd best take no notice. She don't mean anything ill, my dear; 'tis only her phantasies."
"Oh, Mrs Betty! I wish—"
"Phoebe!" came up from below. "Fetch my cloak and hood, and bring your own—quick, now! We are about to drive out with Madam."
"Come, dry your eyes, child, and I'll fetch the things," said Betty, soothingly. "You'll be the better of a drive."
Rhoda's annoyance seemed to have vanished from her mind as well as from her countenance; and Madam took no notice of Phoebe's disturbed looks. The Maidens' Lodge, was first visited, and a messenger sent in to ask Lady Betty if she were inclined to take the air. Lady Betty accepted the offer, and was so considerate as not to keep Madam wailing more than ten minutes. No further invitation was offered, and the coach rumbled away in the direction of Gloucester.
For a time Phoebe heard little of the conversation between the elder ladies, and Rhoda, as usual in her grandmother's presence, was almost silent. At length she woke up to a remark made by Lady Betty.
"Then you think, Madam, to send for Gatty and Molly?"
"That is my design, my Lady Betty. 'Twill be a diversion for Rhoda; and Sir Richard was so good as to say they should come if I would."
"Indeed, I think he would be easy to have them from home, Madam, till they may see if Betty's disorder be the small-pox or no."
"When did Betty return home, my Lady?"
"But last Tuesday. 'Tis not possible that her sisters have taken aught of her, for she had been ailing some days ere she set forth, and they have bidden at home all the time. You will be quite safe, Madam."
"So I think, my Lady Betty," replied Madam. "Rhoda, have you been listening?"
"No, Madam," answered Rhoda, demurely.
"Then 'tis time you should, my dear," said Madam, graciously. "I will acquaint you of the affair. I think to write to Lady Delawarr, and ask the favour of Mrs Gatty and Mrs Molly to visit me. Their sister Mrs Betty, as I hear, is come home from the Bath, extreme distempered; and 'tis therefore wise to send away Mrs Gatty and little Mrs Molly until Mrs Betty be recovered of her disorder. I would have you be very nice toward them, that they shall find their visit agreeable."
"How long will they stay, Madam?" inquired Rhoda.
"Why, child, that must hang somewhat on Mrs Betty's recovering. I take it, it shall be about a month; but should her distemper be tardy of disappearing, it shall then be something longer."
"Jolly!" was the sound which seemed to Phoebe to issue in an undertone from the lips of Rhoda. But the answer which reached her grandmother's ears was merely a sedate "Yes, Madam."
"I take it, my Lady Betty," observed Madam, turning to her companion, "that the sooner the young gentlewomen are away, the better shall it be."
"Oh, surely, Madam!" answered Lady Betty. "'Tis truly very good of you to ask it; but you are always a general undertaker for your friends."
"We were sent into this world to do good, my Lady Betty," returned Madam, sententiously.
Unless Phoebe's ears were deceived, a whisper very like "Fudge!" came from Rhoda.
The somewhat solemn drive was finished at last; Lady Betty was set down at the Maidens' Lodge; inquiries were made as to the health of Mrs Marcella, who returned a reply intimating that she was a suffering martyr; and Rhoda and Phoebe at last found themselves free from superveillance, and safe in their bedroom.
"Now that's just jolly!" was Rhoda's first remark, with nothing in particular to precede it. "Molly Delawarr's a darling! I don't much care for Gatty, and Betty I just hate. She's a prig and a fid-fad both. But Molly—oh, Phoebe, she's as smart as can be. Such parts she has! You know, she's really—not quite you understand—but really she's almost as clever as I am!"
Phoebe did not seem overwhelmed by this information; she only said, "Is she?"
"Well, nearly," said Rhoda. "She knows fourteen Latin words, Molly does; and she always brings them in."
"Into what?" asked Phoebe, with the little amused laugh which was very rare with her.
"Into her discourse, to be sure, child!" said Rhoda, loftily, "You don't know fourteen Latin words; how should you?"
"How should I, indeed," rejoined Phoebe, meekly, "if father had not taught me?"
"Taught you—taught you Latin?" gasped Rhoda.
"Just a little Latin and Greek; there wasn't time for much," humbly responded Phoebe.
"Greek!" shrieked Rhoda.
"Very little, please," deprecated Phoebe.
"Phoebe, you dear sweet darling love of a Phoebe!" cried Rhoda, kissing her cousin, to the intense astonishment of the latter; "now won't you, like a dear as you are, just tell me one or two Greek words? I would give anything to outshine Molly and make her look foolish, I would! She doesn't know one word of Greek—only Latin. Do, for pity's sake, tell me, if 'tis only one Greek word! and I won't say another syllable, not if Madam gives you a diamond necklace!"
Phoebe was laughing more than she had yet ever done at White-Ladies. She was far too innocent and amiable to think of playing Rhoda the trick of which Melanie's father was guilty, in Contes a ma Fille, when, under the impression that she was saying in Latin, "Knowledge gives the right to laugh at everything," he cruelly caused her to remark in public, "I am a very ridiculous donkey." Phoebe bore no malice. She only said, still smiling, "I don't know what words to tell you."
"Oh, any!" answered Rhoda, accommodatingly. "What's the Greek for ugly?"
"I don't know," said Phoebe, dubiously. "Kakos means bad."
"And what is good and pretty?"
"Agathos is good," replied Phoebe, laughing; "and beautiful is kallios."
"That'll do!" said Rhoda, triumphantly. "'Tis plenty,—I couldn't remember more. Let me see,—kaks, and agathos, and kallius—is that right?"
Phoebe laughingly offered the necessary corrections. "All right!" said Rhoda. "I've no more to wish for. I'll take the shine out of Molly!"
At supper that evening, Madam announced that she had sent her note to Lady Delawarr by a mounted messenger, and had received an answer, according to which Gatty and Molly might be expected to arrive at White-Ladies on Wednesday evening. Madam appeared to be in one of her most gracious moods, for she even condescended to inform Phoebe that Mrs Gatty was two months older than Rhoda, and Mrs Molly four years her junior,—"two years younger than you, my dear," said Madam, very affably.
"Now, Phoebe, I'll tell you what we'll do," asserted Rhoda, as she sat down before the glass that night to have her hair undressed by her cousin. "I'm not going to have Molly teasing about the old gentlewomen down yonder. I'll soon shut her mouth if she begins; and if Gatty wants to go down there, well, she can go by herself. So I'll tell you what: you and I will drink a dish of tea with Mrs Dolly to-morrow, and we'll make her finish her story. I only do wish the dear old tiresome thing wouldn't preach! Then I'll take you in to see Mrs Marcella, and we'll get that done. Then in the morning, you must just set out all my gowns on the bed, and I'll have both you and Betty to sew awhile I must have some lace on that blue. I'll make Madam give me a pair of new silver buckles, too. I can't do unless I cut out those creatures somehow. And the only way to cut out Gatty is by dress, because she hasn't anything in her,—'tis all on her. I cut out Molly in brains. But my Lady Delawarr likes to dress Gatty up, because she fancies the awkward thing's pretty. She isn't, you know,—not a speck; but she thinks so."
Whether the last pronoun referred to Lady Delawarr or to Gatty, Rhoda was not sufficiently perspicuous to indicate. Phoebe went on disentangling her hair in silence, and Rhoda likewise fell into a brown study.
Of the nature of her thoughts that young lady gave but two intimations: the first, as she tied up her hair in the loose bag which then served for a night-cap,—
"I cannot abide that Betty!"
The second came a long while afterwards, just as Phoebe was dropping to sleep.
"I say, Phoebe!"
"Did you say 'kakios?'"
Phoebe had to collect her thoughts. "Kakos," she said.
"Oh, all right; they won't know. But won't I take the shine out of that Molly!"
Phoebe's arrested sleep came back to her as she was reflecting on the curious idea which her cousin seemed to have of friendship.
"Come along, Phoebe! This is the shortest way."
"Oh, couldn't we go by the road?" asked Phoebe, drawing back apprehensively, as Rhoda sprang lightly from the top of the stile which led into the meadow.
"Of course we could, but 'tis ever so much further round, and not half so pleasant. Why?"
"There are—cows!" said Phoebe, under her breath.
Rhoda laughed more decidedly than civilly.
"Cows! Did you never see cows before? I say, Phoebe, come along! Don't be so silly!"
Phoebe obeyed, but in evident trepidation, and casting many nervous glances at the dreaded cows, until the girls had passed the next stile.
"Cows don't bite, silly Phoebe!" said Rhoda, rather patronisingly, from the height of her two years' superiority in age.
"But they toss sometimes, don't they?" tremblingly demanded Phoebe.
"What nonsense!" said Rhoda, as they rounded the Maidens' Lodge.
Little Mrs Dorothy sat sewing at her window, and she nodded cheerily to her young guests as they came in.
"What do you think, Mrs Dolly?—good evening!" said Rhoda, parenthetically. "If this foolish Phoebe isn't frighted of a cow!"
"Sure, my dear, that is no wonder, for one bred in in the town," gently deprecated Mrs Dorothy.
"So stupid and nonsensical!" said Rhoda. "I say, Mrs Dolly, are you afraid of anything?"
"Yes, my dear," was the quiet answer.
"Oh!" said Rhoda. "Cows?"
"No, not cows," returned Mrs Dorothy, smiling.
"Frogs? Beetles?" suggested Rhoda.
"I do not think I am afraid of any animal, at least in this country, without it be vipers," said Mrs Dorothy. "But—well, I dare say I am but a foolish old woman in many regards. I oft fear things which I note others not to fear at all."
"But what sort of things, Mrs Dolly?" inquired Rhoda, who had made herself extremely comfortable with a large chair and sundry cushions.
"I will tell you of three things, my dear, of which I have always felt afraid, at the least since I came to years of discretion. And most folks are not afraid of any of them. I am afraid of getting rich. I am afraid of being married. And I am afraid of judging my neighbours."
"Oh!" cried Rhoda, in genuine amazement. "Why, Mrs Dolly, what do you mean? As to judging one's neighbours,—well, I suppose the Bible says something against that; but we all do it, you know."
"We do, my dear; more's the pity."
"But getting rich, and being married! Oh, Mrs Dolly! Everybody wants those."
"No, my dear, asking your pardon," replied the old lady, in a tone of decision unusual with her. "I trust every Christian does not want to be rich, when the Lord hath given him so many warnings against it. And every man does not want to marry, nor every woman neither."
"Well, not every man, perhaps," admitted Rhoda; "but every woman does, Mrs Dolly."
"My dear, I am sorry to hear a woman say it," answered Mrs Dorothy, with as much warmth as was consonant with her nature. "I hoped that was a man's delusion."
"Why, Mrs Dolly! I do," said Rhoda, with great candour.
"Then I wish you more wisdom, child."
"Well, upon my word!" exclaimed Rhoda. "Didn't you, when you were young, Mrs Dolly?"
"No, I thank God, nor when I was old neither," replied Mrs Dorothy, in the same tone.
"But, Mrs Dolly! A maid has no station in society!" said Rhoda, using a phrase which she had picked up from one of her grandfather's books.
"My dear, your station is where God puts you. A maid has just as good a station as a wife; and a much pleasanter, to my thinking."
"Pleasanter!" exclaimed Rhoda. "Why, Mrs Dolly, nobody thinks anything of an old maid, except to pity her."
"They may keep their pity to themselves," said Mrs Dorothy, with a little laugh. "We old maids can pity them back again, and with more reason."
"Mrs Dolly, would you have all the world hermits?"
"No, my dear; nor do I at all see why people should always leap to the conclusion that an old maid must be an ill-tempered, lonely, disappointed creature. Sure, there are other relatives in this world beside husbands and children; and if she choose her own lot, what cause hath she for disappointment? 'Tis but a few day since Mr Leighton said, in my hearing, 'Of course we know, when a gentlewoman is unwed, 'tis her misfortune rather than her fault'—and I do believe the poor man thought he paid us women a compliment in so speaking. For me, I felt it an insult."
"Why so, Mrs Dolly?"
"Why, think what it meant, my dear. 'Of course, a woman cannot be so insensible to the virtues and attractions of men that she should wish to remain unwed; therefore, if this calamity overtake her, it shows that she hath no virtues nor attractions herself.'"
"You don't think Mr Leighton meant that, Mrs Dolly?" asked Rhoda, laughing.
"No, my dear; I think he did not see the meaning of his own words. But tell me, if it is not a piece of great vanity on the part of men, that while they never think to condole with a man who is unmarried, but take it undoubted that he prefers that life, they take it as equally undoubted that a woman doth not prefer it, and lament over her being left at ease and liberty as though she had suffered some great misfortune?"
"I never did see such queer notions as you have, Mrs Dolly! I can't think where you get them," said Rhoda. "However, you may say what you will; I mean to marry, and I am going to be rich too. And I expect I shall like both of them."
"My dear!" and Mrs Dorothy laid down her work, and looked earnestly at Rhoda. "How do you know you are going to be rich?"
"Why, I shall have White-Ladies," answered Rhoda. "And of course Aunt Harriet will leave me everything."
"Have Madam and Mrs Harriet told you so, my dear?"
"No," said Rhoda, rather impatiently. "But who else should they leave it to?"
Mrs Dorothy let that part of the matter drop quietly.
"'They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare,'" she said, taking up her work again.
"What snare?" said Rhoda, bluntly.
"They get their hearts choked up," said the old lady.
"With what, Mrs Dolly?"
"'Cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life.' O my dear, may the Lord make your heart soft! Yet I am afraid—I am very sore afraid, that the only way of making some hearts soft is—to break them."
"Well, I don't want my heart breaking, thank you," laughed Rhoda; "and I don't think anything would break it, unless I lost all my money, and was left an old maid. O Mrs Dolly, I can't think how you bear it! To come down, now, and live in one of these little houses, and have people looking down on you, instead of looking up to you—if anything of the sort would kill me, I think that would."
"Well, it hasn't killed me, child," said Mrs Dorothy, calmly; "but then, you see, I chose it. That makes a difference."
"But you didn't choose to be poor, Mrs Dolly?"
"Well, yes, in one sense, I did," answered the old lady, a little tinge of colour rising in her pale cheek.
"How so?" demanded Rhoda, who was not deterred from gaining information by any delicacy in asking questions.
"There was a time once, my dear, that I might have married a gentleman of title, with a rent-roll of six thousand a year."
"Mrs Dolly! you don't mean that?" cried Rhoda. "And why on earth didn't you?"
"Well, my dear, I had two reasons," answered Mrs Dorothy. "One was"— with a little laugh—"that as you see, I preferred to be one of these same ill-conditioned, lonely, disappointed old maids. And the other was"—and Mrs Dorothy's voice sank to a softer and graver tone—"I could not have taken my Master with me into that house. I saw no track of His footsteps along that road. And His sheep follow Him."
"But God means us to be happy, Mrs Dolly?"
"Surely, my dear. But He knows better than we how empty and fleeting is all happiness other than is found in Him. 'Tis only because the Lord is our Shepherd that we shall not want."
"Mrs Dolly, that is what good people say; but it always sounds so gloomy and melancholy."
"What sounds melancholy, my dear?" inquired Mrs Dorothy, with slight surprise in her tone.
"Why, that one must find all one's happiness in reading sermons, and chanting Psalms, and thinking how soon one is going to die," said Rhoda, with an uncomfortable shrug.
"My dear!" exclaimed Mrs Dorothy, "when did you ever hear me say anything of the kind?"
"Why, that was what you meant, wasn't it," answered Rhoda, "when you talked about finding happiness in piety?"
"And when did I do that?"
"Just now, this minute back," said Rhoda in surprise.
"My dear child, you strangely misapprehend me. I never spoke a word of finding happiness in piety; I spoke of finding it in God. And God is not sermons, nor chanting, nor death. He is life, and light, and love. I never think how soon I shall die. I often think how soon the Lord may come; but there is a vast difference between looking for the coming of a thing that you dread, and looking for the coming of a person whom you long to see."
"But you will die, Mrs Dolly?"
"Perhaps, my dear. The Lord may come first; I hope so."
"Oh dear!" said Rhoda. "But that means the world may come to an end."
"Yes. The sooner the better," replied the old lady.
"But you don't want the world to end, Mrs Dolly?"
"I do, my clear. I want the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
"Oh dear!" cried Rhoda again. "Why, Mrs Dolly, I can't bear to think of it. It would be an end of everything I care about."
"My dear," said the old lady, gravely and yet tenderly, "if the Lord's coming will put an end to everything you care about, that must be because you don't care much for Him."
"I don't know anything about Him, except what we hear in church," answered Rhoda uneasily.
"And don't care for that?" softly responded her old friend.
Rhoda fidgeted for a moment, and then let the truth out.
"Well, no, Mrs Dolly, I don't. I know it sounds very wicked and shocking; but how can I, when 'tis all so far off? It doesn't feel real, as you do, and Madam, and all the other people I know. I can't tell how you make it real."
"He makes it real, my child. 'Tis faith which sees God. How can you see Him without it? But I am not shocked, my dear. You have only told me what I knew before."
"I don't see how you knew," said Rhoda uncomfortably; "and I don't know how people get faith."
"By asking the Lord for it," said Mrs Dolly. "Phoebe, my child, is it a sorrowful thing to thee to think on Christ and His coming again?"
"Oh no!" was Phoebe's warm answer. "You see, Madam, I haven't anything else."
"Dear child, thank God for it!" replied Mrs Dorothy softly. "'Ton sort n'est pas a plaindre.'"
"I declare, if 'tis not four o'clock!" cried Rhoda, springing up, and perhaps not sorry for the diversion. "There, now! I meant you to finish your story, and we haven't time left. Come along, Phoebe! We are going to look in a minute on Mrs Marcella, and then we must hurry home."
"And I come down no more to chilling praise, To sneers, to wearing out of empty days, But rest, rejoicing in the power I've won, To go on learning, though my crying's done."
Isabella Fyvie Mayo.
As the two girls turned into the little garden of Number Three, the latch of the door was lifted, and Mrs Jane came out.
"Good evening!" said she. "Come to see my sister, are you? I and my Deb are doing for her to-day, for her Nell has got a holiday—gone to see her mother—lazy slut!"
"Which is the lazy slut, Mrs Jane?" asked Rhoda, laughing.
"Heyday! they're all a parcel together," answered Mrs Jane. "Nell and her mother, and her grandmother before them. And Marcella, too, she's no better. Go in, if you want a string of complaints. You can come out when you've had plenty."
"How many complaints are plenty, Mrs Jane?"
"One," said Mrs Jane, marching off. "Plenty for me."
Rhoda lifted the latch, and walked in, Phoebe following her. She tapped at the inner door.
"Oh, come in, whoever it is," said a querulous, plaintive voice. "Well, Mrs Rhoda, I thought you would have been to see me before. A poor lonely creature, that nobody cares for, and never has any comfort nor pleasure! And who have you with you? I'm sure she's in a deep consumption from the looks of her. Coltsfoot, my dear, and horehound, with plenty of sugar, boiled together; and a little mallow won't hurt. But they'll not do you much good, I should say; you're too far gone: still, 'tis a duty to do all one can, and some strange things do happen: like Betty Collins—the doctors all gave her up, and there she is, walking about, as well as anybody. And so may you, my dear, though you don't look like it. Still, you are young—there's no telling: and coltsfoot is a very good thing, and makes wonderful cures. Oh, that careless Jane, to leave me all alone, just when I wanted my pillows shaking! And so inconsiderate of Nell to go home just to-day, of all days, when she knew I was sure to be worse; I always am after a fast-day. Fast-days don't suit me at all; they are very bad for sick people. They make one's spirits so low, and are sure to give me the vapours. Oh dear, that Jane!"
"What's the matter with that Jane?" demanded the bearer of the name, stalking in, as Phoebe was trying to brace up her courage to the point of offering to shake the pillows. "Want another dose of castor oil? I've got it."
A faint shriek of deprecation was the answer.
"Oh dear! And you know how I hate it! Jane, do shake up my pillows. They feel as if there were stones instead of flocks in them, or—"
"Nutmegs, no doubt," suggested Mrs Jane. "Shake them up? Oh yes, and you too—do you both good."
"Oh, don't, Jane! Have you an orange for me?"
"Sit down, my dears," said Mrs Jane, parenthetically. "Can't afford them, Marcella. Plenty of black currant tea. Better for you."
"I don't like it!" said Mrs Marcella, plaintively.
"Oranges are eightpence a-piece, and currants may be had for the gathering," observed Mrs Jane, sententiously.
"They give me a pain in my side!" moaned the invalid.
"Well, the oranges would give you a pain in your purse. I'd rather have one in my side, if I were you."
"You don't know what it is to be ill!" said Mrs Marcella, closing her eyes.
"Don't I? I've had both small-pox and spotted fever."
"So long ago!"
"Bless you, child! I'm not Methuselah!" said Mrs Jane.
"Well, I think you might be, Jane, for really, the way in which you can sit up all night, and look as fresh as a daisy in the morning, when you have not had a wink of sleep, and I am perfectly worn-out with suffering—just skin and bone, and no more—"
"There's a little tongue left, I reckon!" said Mrs Jane.
"The way she will get up and go to market, my dears, after such a night as that," pursued Mrs Marcella, who always ran on her own line of rails, and never shunted to avoid collision; "you never saw anything like her—the amount she can bear! She's as tough as a rhinoceros, and as strong as an elephant, and as wanting in feeling as—as—"
"A sensitive plant," popped in Mrs Jane. "Now, Marcella, open your mouth and shut your eyes, and take this."
"Is it castor oil?" faintly screamed the invalid, endeavouring to protect herself.
"Stuff! 'Tis good Tent wine. Take it and be thankful."
"Where did you get it, Jane?"
"Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies," said Mrs Jane. "It was honestly come by."
"Well, I think we must be going, Mrs Marcella," said Rhoda, rising.
"Oh, my dear! Must you, really? And so seldom as you come to see a poor thing like me, who hasn't a living creature to care for her—except Jane, of course, and she doesn't, not one bit! Dear! And to think that I was once a pretty young maid, with a little fortune of my own; and there was many a young gentleman, my dear, that would have given his right hand for no more than a smile from me—"
"Heyday! how this world is given to lying!" interpolated Mrs Jane.
"And we were a large family then—eight of us, my dear; and now they are all dead, and I am left quite alone, except Jane, you know. Oh dear, dear, but to think of it! But there is no thankfulness in the world, nor kindness neither. The people I have been good to! and now that I have come down a little, to see how they treat me! Jane doesn't mind it; she has no tender feelings at all; she can stand all things, and never say a word, I am sure I don't know how she does it. I am all feeling! These things touch me so keenly. But Jane's just like a stone. Well, good evening, my dear, if you must go. I think you might have come a little sooner, and you might come oftener, if you would. But that is always my lot, to be neglected and despised—a poor, lonely, ugly old maid, that nobody cares for. And it wasn't my fault, I am sure; I never chose such a fate. I cannot think why such afflictions have been sent me. I am sure I am no worse than other people. Clarissa is a great deal vainer than I am; and Jane is ever so much harder; and as to Dorothy, why, 'tis misery to see her—she is so cheerful and full of mirth, and she has not a thing to be content with—it quite hurts me to see anyone like that. But people are so wanting in feeling! I am sure—"
"Go, if you want," said Mrs Jane, shortly, holding the door open.
"Oh, yes, go! Of course you want to go!" lamented Mrs Marcella. "What pleasure can there be to a bright young maid like you, to sit with a poor, sick, miserable creature like me? Dear, dear! And only to think—"
Rhoda escaped. Phoebe followed, more slowly. Mrs Jane came out after them, and shut the door behind them.
"She's in pain, this evening," said the last-named person in her usual blunt style. "Some folks can bear pain, and some can't. And those that can must beat with those that can't. She'll be better of letting it out a bit. Good evening."
"Oh, isn't it dreadful!" said Rhoda, when they were out of the gate. "I just hate going to see Mrs Marcella, especially when she takes one of her complaining fits. If I were Mrs Jane, I should let her have it out by herself. But she is hard, rather—she doesn't care as I should."
But Phoebe thought that a mistake. She had noticed the drawn brow of the silent sister, while the sufferer was detailing her string of troubles, and the sudden quiver of the under lip, when allusion was made to the eight of whom the family had once consisted: and Phoebe's deduction was, not that Jane Talbot bore no burden, but that she kept it out of sight. Perhaps that very characteristic bluntness of her manner denoted a tight curb kept upon her spirit.
Rhoda had noticed nothing of all this. Herself a surface character, she could not see below the surface in another.
The Wednesday evening came, and with it Sir Richard Delawarr's coach, conveying his two younger daughters. They were extremely unlike in person. Gatty was tall, calm, and deliberate; Molly was rather diminutive for her years, and exceedingly lively. While Gatty came forward in a stately, courteous manner, courtesying to Madam, and kindly answering her inquiries after Betty, Molly linked her arm in Rhoda's, with—
"How goes it, old jade?"
And when Mr Onslow, who happened to be crossing the hall, stopped and inquired in a rather timid manner if Mrs Betty's health were improving, Molly at once favoured him with a slap on the back, and the counter query,—
"What's that to you, you old thief?" Phoebe was horrified. If these were aristocratic manners, she preferred those of inferior quality. But noticing that Gatty's manners were quiet and correct, Phoebe concluded that Molly must be an exceptional eccentricity. She contemplated the prospect of a month in that young lady's company with unmitigated repugnance.
"Well, Mrs Molly, my dear,—as smart as ever!" remarked Madam, turning to Molly with a smile. "All right, old witch!" said Molly. And to Phoebe's astonishment, Madam smiled on, and did not resent the impertinence.
"Well!—how do you like Gatty and Molly?" said Rhoda to Phoebe, when they were safe in their own room.
"Pretty well, Mrs Gatty," replied Phoebe, leaving the question of Molly undecided.
"Don't you like Molly?" demanded Rhoda, laughing. "Ah! I see. She's rather too clever to please you."
"I ask your pardon, but I don't see any cleverness in downright rudeness," timidly suggested Phoebe.
"Oh, nobody cares what Molly says," answered Rhoda. "They put up with all that,—she's so smart. You see, she's very, very ingenious, and everybody thinks so, and she knows people think so. She's a rep., you see, and she has to keep it up."
"I ask your pardon," said Phoebe again; "a what, if you please?"
"A rep., child," answered Rhoda, in her patronising style. "A reputation,—a character for smartness, you know. Don't you see?"
"Well, I would rather have a character for something better," said Phoebe.
"You may make yourself easy; you'll never get a character for smartness," responded her cousin with an unpleasant laugh. "Well, I say, Phoebe, while they are here I shall have Molly in my room, and you must sleep with Gatty. You can come in and dress me of a morning, you know, and help me into bed at night; but we can't do with three in one room."
Phoebe was inwardly thankful for it. What little she had seen of Gatty was rather negative than positive; but at least it had not, as in the case of Molly revealed anything actively disagreeable. Rhoda was heartily welcome to Molly's society so far as Phoebe was concerned. But it surprised and rather perplexed Phoebe to find that Rhoda actually liked this very objectionable maiden.
"Panem?" asked Molly, the next morning at breakfast. Her Latin, such as it was, was entirely unburdened with cases and declensions. "Thank you, I will take kakos."
"Fiddle-de-dee! what's that?" said Molly. Rhoda had completely forgotten what the word meant.
"Oh, 'tis the Greek for biscuit," said she, daringly.
Phoebe contrived to hide a portion of her face in her teacup, but Gatty saw her eyes, and read their meaning.
"The Greek!" cried Molly. "Who has taught you Greek, Ne'er-do-well?"
"A very learned person," said Rhoda, to whom it was delight to mystify Molly.
"Old Onslow?" demanded irreverent Molly, quite undeterred by the consideration that the chaplain sat at the table with her.
"You can ask him," said Rhoda.
"Did you, old cassock?" inquired Molly, who appeared to apply that adjective in a most impartial manner.
"Indeed, Mrs Molly, I did not—I never knew—" stammered the startled chaplain, quite shaken out of his propriety.
"Never knew any Greek? I thought so," responded audacious Molly, thereby evoking laughter all round the table, in which even Madam joined.
Phoebe, who had recovered herself, sat lost in wonder where the cleverness of all this was to be found. It simply disgusted her. Rhoda was not always pleasant to put up with, but Rhoda was sweetness and grace, compared with Molly. Gatty sat quietly, neither rebuking her sister's sallies, nor apparently amused by them. And Rhoda liked this girl! It was a mystery to Phoebe.
When night came Phoebe found her belongings transferred to Gatty's room. She assisted Rhoda to undress, herself silent, but a perpetual chatter being kept up between Rhoda and Molly on subjects not by any means interesting to Phoebe.
The latter was at length dismissed, and, with a sense of relief, she went slowly along the passage to the room in which she and Gatty were to sleep.
Though it was getting very late, the clock being on the stroke of ten, yet Gatty was not in bed. She seemed to have half undressed herself, and then to have thrown a scarf over her shoulders and sat down by the window. It was a beautiful night, and a flood of silvery moonlight threw the trees into deep shadow and lit up the open spaces almost like day. Phoebe came and stood at the window beside Gatty. Perhaps each was a little shy of the other; for some seconds passed in silence, and Phoebe was the first to speak.
"You like it," she said timidly.
"Oh, yes. 'Tis so quiet," was Gatty's answer.
Phoebe was thinking what she should say next, when Gatty rose, took off her scarf, which she folded neatly and put away in the wardrobe, finished her undressing, and got into bed, without another word beyond "Good-night."
For three weeks of the month which the visit was to last this proved to be the usual state of matters. Gatty and Phoebe regularly exchanged greetings, night and morning; but beyond this their conversation was limited to remarks upon the weather, and an occasional request that Phoebe would inspect the neat and proper condition of some part of Gatty's dress which she could not conveniently see. And Phoebe began to come to the conclusion that Rhoda had judged rightly,—Gatty had nothing in her.
But one evening, when Molly had been surpassingly "clever," keeping Rhoda in peals of laughter, and Phoebe in a state of annoyed disgust,— on reaching their bedroom, Phoebe found Gatty, still dressed, and sitting by the bed, with her face bowed upon her hands.
"I ask your pardon, but are you not well?" said Phoebe, in a sympathising tone.
"Oh, yes. Quite well," was Gatty's reply, in a constrained voice; but as she rose and moved her hands from her face, Phoebe saw that she had been crying.
"You are in trouble," said Phoebe, gently. "Don't tell me anything, unless you like; but I know what trouble is; and if I could help you—"
"You can't," said Gatty, shortly.
Phoebe was silent. Her sympathy had been repulsed—it was not wanted. The undressing was, as usual, without a word.
But when the girls had lain down in bed, Phoebe was a little surprised to hear Gatty say suddenly,—
"Phoebe Latrobe!—does anybody love you?"
"God loves me," said Phoebe, simply. "I am not sure that any one else does."
"I like you," said Gatty. "You let me be. That's what nobody ever does."
"I am not sure that I understand you," responded Phoebe.
"I'll tell you," replied Gatty, "for I think you can hold your tongue, and not be always chatter, chatter, chatter, like—like some people. You think there's only one Gatty Delawarr; and I'll be bound you think her a very dull, stupid creature. Well, you're about right there. But there are two: there's me, and there's the thing people want to make me. Now, you haven't seen me,—you've only seen the woman into whom I am being pinched and pulled. This is me that talks to you to-night, and perhaps you'll never see me again,—only that other girl,—so you had better make the most of me now that you have me. I'm sure, if you dislike her as much as I do—! You see, Phoebe, there are three of us— Betty, and me, and Molly: and Mother's set her heart on our all making a noise in the world. Well, perhaps we could have managed better if we might have made our own noise; but we have to make it to order, and we don't do it well at all. Betty's the best off, because Mother hit on something that went with her nature,—she's the notable housewife. So she plays her play well. But when she set up Molly for a wit, and me for a beauty, she made a great blunder. Molly hasn't a bit of wit, so she falls back on rude speeches, and they go through me just as if she ran a knife into me. You did not think so, did you?"
"No," said Phoebe, wonderingly; "I thought you did not seem to care."
"That's the other Gatty. She does not care. She's been told,—oh, a hundred times over!—to compose herself and keep her features calm, and not let her voice be ruffled; and move slowly, so that her elbows are not square, and all on in that way; and she has about learned it by this time. I know how to sit still and look unconcerned, if my heart be breaking. And it is breaking, Phoebe."
"Dear Mrs Gatty, what can I do for you?"
"You can't do anything but listen to me. Let me pour it out this once, and don't scold me. I don't mean anything wrong, Phoebe. I don't wish to complain of Mother, or Molly, or any one. I only want to tell somebody what I have to bear, and then I'll compose myself again to my part in the world's big theatre, and go away and bear it, like other girls do. And you are the only person I have acquaintance with, that I feel as if I could tell."
"Pray go on, Mrs Gatty; I can feel sorry, if I can do nothing else."
"Well,—at home somebody is at me from morning to night. There's a posture-master comes once a week; and Mother's maid looks to my carriage at all times, 'tis an endless round of—'Gatty, hold your head up,'—'Gatty, put that plate down, and take it up with your arm rounded,'—'Gatty, you must not laugh,'—'Gatty, you must not sneeze,'—'Gatty, walk slower,'—come, that's enough. Then there's Molly on the top of it. And there's Betty on the top of Molly,—who can't conceive why anybody should ruffle her mind about anything. And there's Mother above all, for ever telling me she looks to have me cut a dash, and make a good match; and if I had played my cards rightly I ought to have caught a husband ere I was seventeen,—'tis disgraceful that I should thus throw away my advantages. And, Phoebe, I want nothing but to creep into some little, far-away corner, and be me, and throw away my patches and love-locks, and powder and pomatum, and never see that other Gatty any more. That's how it was up to last month."
Gatty paused a moment, and drew a long sigh.
"And then, there came another on the scene, and I suppose the play grew more entertaining to Mother, and Betty, and Molly, in the boxes. People don't think, you know, when they look down at the prima donna, painted, and smiling, and decked with flowers,—they don't think if she has a husband who ill-uses her, or a child dying at home. She has come there to make them sport. Well, there came an old lord,—a man of sixty or seventy,—who has led a wild rakish life all these years, and now he thinks 'tis time to settle down, and he wants me to help him to make people think he's become respectable. And they say I shall marry him. Phoebe, they say I must,—there is to be no help for it. And I can't bear him to look at me. If he touches my glove, I want to fling it into the fire when it comes off. And this one month, here, at White-Ladies, is my last quiet time. When I go home—if Betty be recovered of her distemper—I am to be married to this old man in a week's time. I am tied hand and foot, like a captive or a slave; and I have not even the poor relief of tears. They make my eyes red, and I must not make, my eyes red, if it would save my life. But nothing will save me. The lambs that used to be led to the altar are not more helpless than I. The rope is round my neck; and I must trot on beside the executioner, and find what comfort I can in the garland of roses on my head."
There was a silence of a few seconds after Gatty finished her miserable tale. And then Phoebe's voice asked softly,—
"Dear Mrs Gatty, have you asked God to save you?"
"What's the use?" answered Gatty, in a hopeless tone.
"Because He would do it," said Phoebe. "I don't know how. It might be by changing my Lady Delawarr's mind, or the old lord's, or yours; or many another way; I don't know how. But I do know that He has promised to bring no temptation on those that fear Him, beyond what they shall be able to bear."
"Oh, I don't know!" said Gatty, in that tone which makes the word sound like a cry of pain.
"Have you tried entreating my Lady Delawarr?"
"Tried! I should think so. And what do you think I get by it? 'Gatty, my dear, 'tis so unmodish to be thus warm over anything! Compose yourself, and control your feelings. Love!—no, of course you do not love my Lord Polesworth, while you are yet a maid; 'twould be highly indecorous for you to do any such thing. But when you are his wife, you'll be perfectly content; and that is all you can expect. My dear, do compose yourself, or your face will be quite wrinkled; and let me hear no more of this nonsense, I beg of you. Maids cannot look to choose for themselves, 'tis not reasonable.' That is what I get, Phoebe."
"And your father, Mrs Gatty?"
"My father? Oh! 'Really, Gatty, I can't interfere,—'tis your mother's affair; you must make up your mind to it. We can't have always what we like,'—and then he whistles to his hounds, and goes out a-hunting."
"Well, Mrs Gatty, suppose you try God?"
"Suppose I have done, Phoebe, and got no answer at all?"
"Forgive me, I cannot suppose it."
"Is He so good to you, Phoebe?"
The question was asked in a very, very mournful tone.
"Mrs Gatty," said Phoebe, softly, "He has given me Himself. I do not think He has given me anything else of what my heart longs for. But that is enough. In Him I have all things."
"What do you mean?" came in accents of perplexity from the bed in the opposite corner.
"I am afraid," said Phoebe, "I cannot tell you. I mean, I could not make you understand it."
"'Given you Himself!'" repeated Gatty. "I can fancy how He could reward you or make you happy; but, 'give you Himself!'"
"Well, I cannot explain it," said Phoebe. "Yes, it means giving happiness; but it means a great deal more. I can feel it, but I cannot put it in words."
"I don't understand you the least bit!"
"Will you talk awhile with Mrs Dolly Jennings, and see if she can explain it to you? I do not think any one can, in words; but I guess she would come nearer to it than I could."
"I like Mrs Dolly," said Gatty, thoughtfully; "she is very kind."
"Very," assented Phoebe.
"I think I should not mind talking to her," said Gatty. "We will walk down there to-morrow, if we can get leave."
"And now, had we not better go to sleep?" suggested Phoebe.
"Well, we can try," sighed Gatty. "But, Phoebe, 'tis no good telling me to pray, because I have done it. I said over every collect in the Prayer-book—ten a day; and the very morning after I had finished them, that horrid man came, and Mother made—I had to go down and sit half an hour listening to him. Praying does no good."
"I am not sure that you have tried it," said Phoebe.
"Didn't I tell you, this minute, I said every—"
"I ask your pardon for interrupting you, but saying is not praying. Did you really pray them?"
"Phoebe, I do not understand you! How could I pray them and not say them?"
"Well, I did not quite mean that," said Phoebe; "but please, Mrs Gatty, did you feel them? Did you really ask God all the collects say, or did you only repeat the words over? You see, if I felt cold in bed, I might ask Mrs Betty to give me leave to have another blanket; but if I only kept saying that I was cold, to myself, over and over, and did not tell Mrs Betty, I should be long enough before I got the blanket. Did you say the collects to yourself, Mrs Gatty, or did you say them to the Lord?"
There was a pause before Gatty said, in rather an awed voice, "Phoebe, when you pray, is God there?"
"Yes," said Phoebe, readily.
"He is not, with me," replied Gatty. "He feels a long, long way off; and I feel as if my collects might drop and be lost before they can get up to Him. Don't you?"
"Never," answered Phoebe. "But I don't send my prayers up by themselves; I give them to Jesus Christ to carry. He never drops one, Mrs Gatty."
"'Tis all something I don't understand one bit," said Gatty, wearily. "Go to sleep, Phoebe; I won't keep you awake. But we'll go and see Mrs Dolly."
The next afternoon, when Rhoda and Molly had disappeared on their private affairs, Gatty dropped a courtesy to Madam, and requested her permission to visit Mrs Dolly Jennings.
"By all means, my dear," answered Madam, affably. "If Rhoda has no occasion for her, let Phoebe wait on you."
The second request which had been on Gatty's lips being thus forestalled, the girls set forth—without consulting Rhoda, which Gatty was disinclined to do, and which Phoebe fancied that she had done—and reached the Maidens' Lodge without falling in with any disturbing element, such as either Rhoda or Molly would unquestionably have been. Mrs Dorothy received them in her usual kindly manner, and gave them tea before they entered on the subject of which both the young minds were full. Then Gatty told her story, if very much the same terms as she had given it to Phoebe.
"And I can't understand Phoebe, Mrs Dolly," she ended. "She says God has given her Himself; and I cannot make it out. And she says she gives her prayers to Jesus Christ to carry. I don't know what she means. It sounds good. But I don't understand it—not one bit."
Mrs Dorothy came up to where Gatty was sitting, and took the girl's head between her small, thin hands. It was not a beautiful face; but it was pleasant enough to look on, and would have been more so, but for the discipline which had crushed out of it all natural interest and youthful anticipation, and had left that strange, strained look of care and forced calm upon the white brow.
"Dear child," she said, gently, "you want rest, don't you?"
Gatty's grey eyes filled with tears.
"That is just what I do want, Mrs Dolly," she said, "somewhere where I could be quiet, and be let alone, and just be myself and not somebody else."
"Ah, my dear!" said Mrs Dorothy, shaking her head, "you never get let alone in this world. Satan won't let you alone, if men do. But to be yourself—that is what God wants of you. At least 'tis one half of what He would have; the other half is that you should give yourself to Him."
"'Tis no good praying," said Gatty, as before.
"Did the Lord tell you that, my dear?"
"No!" said Gatty, looking up in surprise.
"Well, I would not say it till He does, child. But what did you pray for?"
"I said all the collects over."
"Very good things, my dear; but were they what you wanted? I thought you had a special trouble at this time."
"But what could I do?" asked Gatty, apparently rather bewildered.
"Dear child, thou couldst sure ask thy Father to help thee, without more ado. But 'bide a wee,' as my old friend, Scots Davie, was wont to say. There is a great deal about prayer in the Word of God. Let us look at a little of it." Little Mrs Dorothy trotted to her small work-table, which generally stood at her side, and came back with a well-worn brown Bible. Gatty watched her with a rather frightened look, as if she thought that something was going to be done to her, and was not sure whether it might hurt her.
"Now hearken: 'Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.' Again: 'Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that will I do.' These are grand words, my dear."
"But they can't mean that Mrs Dorothy! Why, only think—if I were to ask for a fortune, should I get it?"
"I must have two questions answered, my dear, ere I can tell that. Who are the you in these verses?"
"I thought it meant everybody."
"Not so. Listen again: 'If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.' 'Tis not everybody doth that."
"But I don't know what that means, Mrs Dorothy."
"Then, my dear, you have answered my second question—Are you one of these? For if you know not even what the thing is, 'tis but reasonable to conclude you have never known it in your own person."
"I suppose not," said Gatty, sorrowfully.
"You see, my dear, 'tis to certain persons these words are said. If you are not one of these persons, then they are not said to you."
"I am not." And Gatty shook her head sadly. "But, Mrs Dorothy, what does it mean?"
"Dear," said the old lady, "when we do truly abide in Christ, we desire first of all that His will be done. We wish for this or that; but we wish more than all that He choose all things for us—that He have His own way. Our wills are become His will. It follows as a certainty, that they shall be done. We must have what we wish, when it is what He wishes who rules all things. 'Ye shall ask what ye will.' He guides us what to ask, if we beg Him to do so."
"Is any one thus much perfect?" inquired Gatty, doubtfully.
"Many are trying for it," said Mrs Dolly. "There may be but few that have fully reached it."
"But that makes us like machines, Mrs Dolly, moved about at another's will."
"What, my dear! Love makes us machines? Never! The very last thing that could be, child."
"I don't know much about love," said Gatty, drearily.
"About love, or about being loved?" responded Mrs Dolly.
"Both," answered the girl, in the same tone.
"Will you try it, my dear? 'Tis the sweetener of all human life."
Gatty looked up with a surprised expression.
"I can't make people love me," she said.
"Nor can you make yourself love others," added Mrs Dorothy. "But you can ask the Lord for that fairest of all His gifts, saving Jesus Christ."
"Ask God for a beau! O Mrs Dorothy!" exclaimed Gatty in a shocked tone.
"My dear, I never so much as named one," responded Mrs Dorothy, with a little laugh. "Sure, you are not one of those foolish maids that think they must be loveless and forlorn without they have a husband?"
Gatty had always been taught to think so; and she looked bewildered and mystified. A more eligible husband than old Lord Polesworth was the only idea that associated itself in her mind with the word love.
"But what else did you mean?" she asked.
"Ay me!" said Mrs Dorothy, as if to herself. "How do men misunderstand God! Child, wert thou never taught the first and great commandment? 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength?'"
"Oh, of course," said Gatty, as if she were listening to some scientific formula about a matter wherein she was not at all concerned.
"Have you done that, my dear?"
"Done what?" demanded Gatty in a startled tone.
"Have you loved God with all your heart?"
Gatty looked as if she had been suddenly roused from sleep, and was unable to take in the circumstances.
"I don't know! I—I suppose, so."
"You suppose so! Dear child, how can you love any, and not know it?"
"But that is quite another sort of love!" cried Gatty.
"There is no sort but one, my dear. Love is love."
"Oh, but we can't love God!" said Gatty, as if the idea quite shocked her. "That means—it means reverence, you know, and duty, and so on. It can't mean anything else, Mrs Dorothy."
Mrs Dorothy knitted very fast for a moment. Phoebe saw that her eyes were filled with tears.
"Poor lost sheep!" she said, in a grieved voice. "Poor straying lamb, whom the wolf hath taught to be frightened of the Shepherd! You did not find that in the Bible, my dear."
"Oh, but words don't mean the same in the Bible!" urged Gatty. "Surely, Mrs Dorothy, 'twould be quite unreverent to think so."
"Surely, my dear, it were more unreverent to think that God does not mean what He saith. When He saith, 'I will punish you seven times for your sins,' He means it, Mrs Gatty. And when He saith, 'I will be a Father unto you,' shall we say He doth not mean it? O my dear, don't do Him such an injury as that!"
"Do God an injury!" said Gatty in an awed whisper.
"Ay, a cruel injury!" was the answer. "Men are always injuring God. Either they try to persuade themselves that He means not what He says when He threatens: or else they shut their hearts up close, and then fancy that His heart is shut up too. My dear, He did not tarry to offer to be your Father, until you came and asked Him for it. 'He first loved you.' Child, what dost thou know of the Lord Jesus Christ?"
Ah, what did she know? For Gatty lived in a dreary time, when religion was at one of its lowest ebb-tides, and had sunk almost to the level of heathen morality. If Gatty had been required to give definitions of the greatest words in the language, and had really done it from the bottom of her heart, according to her own honest belief, the list would have run much in this way:—
"God.—The Great First Cause of all things, who has nothing to do with anything now, but will, at some remote period, punish murderers, thieves, and very wicked people.
"Christ.—A supernaturally good man, who was crucified seventeen hundred years ago.
"Heaven.—A delightful place, where everybody is happy, to which all respectable people will go, when they can't help it any longer.
"Bible.—A good book read in church; intensely dry, as good books always are no concern of mine.
"Salvation, peace, holiness, and the like.—Words in the Prayer-Book.
"Faith, hope, love, etcetera.—Duties, which of course we all perform, and therefore don't need to trouble ourselves about them.
"Prayer.—An incantation, to be repeated morning and evening, if you wish to avert ill luck during the day."
These were Gatty's views—if she could be said to have any. How different from those of Mrs Dorothy Jennings! To her, God was the Creator, from whom, and by whom, and to whom, were all things: the Fountain of Mercy, who had so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son for its salvation: the Father who, having loved her before the world was, cared for everything, however insignificant, which concerned her welfare. Christ was the Friend who sticketh closer than a brother—the Lamb who had been slain for her, the High Priest who was touched with every feeling of human infirmity. Heaven was the home which her Father had prepared for her. The Bible was the means whereby her Father talked with her; and prayer the means whereby she talked with Him. Salvation was her condition; holiness, her aim; faith, love, peace, the very breath she drew. While, in Gatty's eyes, all this was unknown and unreal, to Mrs Dorothy it was the most real thing in all the world.
Gatty answered her friend's query by a puzzled look.
"It comes in church," she said. "He is in the Creed, and at the end of the prayers. I don't know!"
"Child," replied Mrs Dorothy, "you don't know Him. And, Mrs Gatty, my dear, you must know Him, if you are ever to be a happy woman. O poor child, poor child! To think that the Man who loved you and gave His life for you is no more to you than one of a row of figures, a name set to the end of a prayer!"
Gatty was taken by surprise. She looked up with both unwonted emotion and astonishment in her eyes.
"Mrs Dolly," she said, with feeling, "I cannot tell, but I think 'twould be pleasant to feel like you. It sounds all real, as if you had a live friend."
"That is just what it is, my dear Mrs Gatty. A Friend that loves me enough to count the very hairs of my head,—to whom nothing is a little matter that can concern me. And He is just as ready to be your Friend too."
"What makes you think so, Mrs Dolly?"
"My dear, He died on purpose to save you."
"The world, not me!" said Gatty.
"If there had been no world but you," was the answer, "He would have thought it worth while."
Gatty's answer was not immediate. When it came, it was—
"What does He want me to do?"
"He wants you to give Him your heart," said the old lady. "Do that first, and you will very soon find out how to give Him your hands and your head."
"And will He keep away my Lord Polesworth?" asked the girl, earnestly.
"He will keep away everything that can hurt you. Not, maybe, everything you don't like. Sometimes 'tis just the contrary. The sweet cake that you like might harm you, and the physic you hate might heal you. If so, He will give you the physic. But, child, if you are His own, He will put the cup into your had with a smite which will make it easy to take."
"I should like that," said Gatty, wistfully. "But could it be right to wed with my Lord Polesworth, when I could not love nor honour him in my heart at all?"
"It can never be right to lie. Ask God to make you a way of escape, if so it be."
"Leave that to Him."
Mrs Dorothy's little clock struck four.
"I think, if you please, Mrs Gatty," said Phoebe's hitherto silent voice, "that Madam will be looking for us."
"Yes, I guess she will," answered Gatty, rising, and courtesying. "I thank you, Mrs Dolly. You have given me a ray of hope—if 'twill not die away."
Mrs Dorothy drew the girl to her, and kissed her cheek.
"Christ cannot die, my child," she replied. "And Christ's love is deathless as Himself. 'Death hath no more dominion over Him.' And He saith to His own, 'Because I live, ye shall live also.'"
"It should be a better life than this," said Gatty, with a sigh.
"This is not the Christian's life, my dear. 'His life is hid with Christ in God.' 'Tis not left in his own hands to keep; he would soon lose it, if it were. Farewell, dear child; and may the Lord keep thee!"
Gatty looked up suddenly. "Tell me what to say to Him."
Mrs Dorothy scarcely hesitated a moment.
"'Teach me to do Thy will,'" she answered. "That holds everything. You cannot do His will unless you are one of His redeemed. He must save you, and hold you up, and guide you to glory, if you do His will—not because you do it, for the salvation cometh first; but without the one, there cannot be the other. And he that doeth the will of God soon learns to love it, better than any mortal thing. 'Oh, how love I Thy law!' saith David. 'There is nothing on earth that I desire in comparison of Thee.'"
She kissed both the girls again, and they went away.
TRAPS LAID FOR RHODA.
"La souveraine habilite consiste a bien connoitre le prix des choses."
There was an earnest, wistful, far-away look in Gatty's eyes, as though some treasure-house had been opened to her, the existence of which she had never previously suspected; but neither she nor Phoebe said a word to each other as they crossed the Park, and went up the wide white steps of the Abbey.
"Where on earth have you been, you gadabouts?" came in Rhoda's voice from the interior of the hall. "Oh, but I've such a jolly piece of news for you! Molly and me heard it from Madam. Guess what it is."
Rhoda's grammar was more free and easy than correct at all times; and Phoebe could not help thinking that in that respect, as in others, she had perceptibly deteriorated by contact with Molly.
"I don't care to hear it, thank you," said Gatty, rather hastily, walking straight upstairs.
"Oh, don't you, Mrs Prim?" demanded Rhoda. "Well, it doesn't concern you much. Now, Phoebe, guess!"
Phoebe felt very little in tune for the sort of amusement usually patronised by Rhoda. But she set herself to gratify that rather exacting young lady.
"I don't guess things well," she said. "Is one of your aunts coming?"
"My aunts!" repeated Rhoda, in supreme scorn. "Not if I know it, thank you. I said it was jolly. Why, Phoebe! to guess such a thing as that!"
"Well, I should be pleased enough if mine were coming to see me," said Phoebe, good-temperedly. "I don't know what else to guess. Has some one given you a present?"
"Wish they had!" ejaculated Rhoda. "No, I'm sorry to say nobody's had so much good sense. But there's somebody—I shall have to tell you sooner or later, you stupid goose, so I may as well do it now— somebody's coming to Number Four. Mrs Eleanor Darcy, a cousin of my Lord Polesworth—only think!—and (that's best of all) she's got a nephew."
"How is that best of all?" asked Phoebe.
"Mr Marcus Welles—isn't it a pretty name?—and he will come with her, to settle her in her new house. 'Why?' Oh, what a silly Phoebe you are! He has three thousand a year."
"Then I should think he might take better care of his aunt than let her be an indigent gentlewoman," said Phoebe, rather warmly.
"As if he would want to be pothered with an old aunt!" cried Rhoda. "But I'll tell you what (you are so silly, you want telling everything!)—I mean to set my cap at him."
"Won't you have some cleaner lace on it first?" suggested Phoebe, with the exceedingly quiet, dry fun which was one of her characteristics.
"You stupid, literal thing!" said Rhoda. "I might as well talk to the cat. Oh, here you come, Molly! Now for tea, if 'tis ready, and then—"
Madam was already at the tea-table, and Baxter was just bringing in the kettle.
"I trust you have had a pleasant walk, my dears," said she, kindly, as the four girls filed in—Molly first, Phoebe last.
"Middling," said Molly, taking the initiative as usual. "Robbed seventeen birds' nests, climbed twenty-four trees, and jumped over a dozen five-barred gates."
"Oh, did you!" murmured Phoebe, in a shocked tone, too horrified for silence.
Rhoda went into convulsions behind her handkerchief.
"Innocent little darling!" exclaimed Molly; "she thinks we did!"
"You said so," answered Phoebe, reproachfully.
"You are so smart, my dear Mrs Molly," said Madam, smilingly. "Did you all walk together?"
"No, I thank you!" responded Molly. "Gatty and the innocent little dear went to a Quakers' meeting."
Had Madam taken the assertion literally, she would have been alarmed and horrified indeed; for at that time all Dissenters were considered dangerous characters, and Quakers the worst of all. But, recognising it as one of Molly's flights of intellect, she smiled placidly, and said no more.
"My dear, I think you will be acquainted with Mrs Eleanor Darcy?" asked Madam, addressing herself to Gatty.
"She has visited my mother, but only once," answered Gatty.
"Oh, the pootsy-bootsy!" broke in Molly. "Isn't she a sweet, charming, handsome creature?—the precious dear!"
"I fear she doth not please you, Mrs Molly?" asked Madam, interpreting Molly's exclamation by the rule of contrary.
"She's the ugliest old baboon that ever grinned!" was Molly's complimentary reply.
"What say you, Mrs Gatty?"
"She is certainly not handsome," answered Gatty, apparently with some reluctance; "but I have heard her well spoken of, as very kind and good."
"Have you met with Mr Welles, her nephew, my dear?"
Molly had clasped her hands, leaned back, lifted her eyes with an expression of sentimental rapture, and was executing an effective tableau vivant.
"Yes, I have seen him two or three times," said Gatty.
"Is he a young man of an agreeable turn?" inquired Madam.
"He is very handsome," replied Gatty, rather doubtfully, as if she hardly knew what to say.
"Pleasant as a companion?" pursued Madam.
"People generally think so, I believe," answered Gatty, with studied vagueness.
"You dear old concatenation, you'll get nothing out of my wretch of a sister," impetuously cried Molly.
"I'll tell you all about Marcus. He's the brightest eyes that ever shone, and the sweetest voice that praised your fine eyes, and the most delightful manners! White hands, and a capital leg, and never treads on your corns. Oh, there's nobody like him. I mean to marry him."
"Molly!" said Gatty. It was the first time she had offered anything like a reproof to her sister.
"Now, you hold your tongue, Mrs Prude!" responded Molly. "You're not a bit better than I am."
Gatty made no reply.
"Don't you set up to be either a prig or a saint!" continued Molly, angrily. "Betty's enough. She isn't a saint; but she's a prig. If ever you're either, I'll lead you a life!"
And there could be little doubt of Molly's fulfilling her threat.
The next day, Gatty and Molly Delawarr went home. Betty had quite recovered, and was gone to stay with a friend near Bristol; the house had been thoroughly disinfected, and was pronounced free from all danger; and Lady Delawarr thought there was no longer need for the girls to remain away.
"I wonder what will become of me without you, Molly!" said Rhoda, dolefully.
"Oh, you'll have plenty to do, old Gatepost," observed Molly, apparently in allusion to Rhoda's uneventful life. "You've got to fall in love with Marcus. I'll cut you into slices if you do, and make buttered toast of you."
"Good-bye!" said Rhoda laughing.
"Vale!" responded Molly.
"Good-bye, dear little Phoebe!" was Gatty's farewell. "I wonder what would have become of me if I had not met you and Mrs Dorothy. For I have asked Him to be my Friend,—you know,—and I think, I think He will."
"I am sure of it. Good-bye."
And so Gatty and Molly passed out of the life at White-Ladies.
On returning to the old order of things, Phoebe found Rhoda, as she expected, considerably changed for the worse. What had been a sort of good-humoured condescension was altered into absolute snappishness, and Phoebe was sorely tried. But the influence of Molly, bad as it had been, proved temporary. Rhoda sank by degrees—or shall I say rose?— into her old self, and Phoebe presently had no more to bear than before the visit from Delawarr Court.
About a fortnight after the departure of Gatty and Molly, as Phoebe was sitting at the parlour window with her work, she perceived Mrs Jane Talbot, hooded, cloaked, and pattened,—for the afternoon was damp,— marching up to the side door. The fact was communicated to Madam, who rose and glanced at herself in the chimney-glass, and ringing her little hand-bell, desired Baxter to show Mrs Jane into the parlour.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Jane; 'tis a pleasure I did not look for," said Madam, as she rose.
"Your servant, Madam," returned Mrs Jane, who had divested herself of cloak and pattens in the hall.
"Pray be seated, Mrs Jane. And what brings you hither?—for methinks some matter of import will have called you out on so rainy a day as this."
"Easy to guess," answered Mrs Jane, taking a seat as requested, and delivering her communication in short, blunt sentences, like small shot. "A whim of Marcella's. Got a fancy for Port O Port. Sent me to beg a sup of you, Madam. Fancies it will cure her. Fiftieth time she has thought so, of something. All nonsense. Can't help it."
"Indeed, my dear Mrs Jane, I am happy to be capable of helping Mrs Marcella to her fancy, and trust it may be of the advantage she thinks.—Phoebe! tell Betty to bid Baxter bring hither a bottle of the best Port O Port—that from the little ark in the further cellar.—And how does Mrs Marcella this afternoon?"
"As cross as two sticks," said Mrs Jane.
"She is a great sufferer," observed Madam, in her kindest manner.
Mrs Jane made no reply, unless her next remark could properly be called one.
"Mrs Darcy came last night."
"Last night!" answered Madam, in accents of surprise. "Dear! I quite understood she was not to arrive before this evening. You have seen her, Mrs Jane?"
"Seen her! Oh dear, yes; I've seen her. We were schoolfellows."
"Were you, indeed? That I did not know. 'Twill be a pleasure to you, Mrs Jane, to have an old schoolfellow so near."
"Depends," said Mrs Jane sententiously.
"No doubt," answered Madam. "Were you and Mrs Eleanor friends at school, Mrs Jane?"
"Not? Perhaps you were not near enough of an age."
"Only six months between. No; that wasn't it. I was a silly scapegrace, and she was a decent, good maid. Too good for me. I haven't got any better. And she hasn't got any handsomer."
"Pray forgive me," replied Madam, with a smile, "but I cannot think that name applies to you now, Mrs Jane. And was her nephew with Mrs Eleanor; as he engaged?"
"Large as life," said Mrs Jane.
"And how large is that, in his case?" inquired Madam.
"Asking him or me?" retorted Mrs Jane. "I should say, about as big as a field mouse. He thinks himself big enough to overtop all the elephants in creation. Marcus Welles! Oh, yes, I'll mark him well,— you trust me."
It was tolerably evident that Mr Welles had not succeeded in fascinating Mrs Jane, whatever he might do to other people.
"I was told he was extreme handsome?" remarked Madam, in a tone of inquiry.
Mrs Jane's exclamation in response sounded very like—"Pish!"
"You think not, Mrs Jane?"
"Folks' eyes are so different, Madam," answered Mrs Jane. "Chinamen's beauties wouldn't go for much in England, I guess. He's a silly, whimsical, finnicking piece—that's what he is! Pink velvet coat, laced with silver. Buff breeches. White silk stockings with silver clocks. No cloak. And raining cats and dogs and pitchforks. Reckon Eleanor got all the sense that was going in that family. None left for Mr Mark-me-well. Missed it, anyhow."
From that day forward, behind his back, Mark-me-well was the only name bestowed by Mrs Jane on the young man in question. To his face she gave him none,—an uncivil proceeding in 1714; but Mrs Jane being allowedly an eccentric character, no one expected her to conform to conventional rules on all occasions.
It would seem that Mr Welles wished to lose no time in paying his court to Madam; for that very evening, as soon as calling-hours began, he put in an appearance at White-Ladies.
Calling-hours and visiting-days were as common then as now; but the hours were not the same. From five to eight o'clock in the evening was the proper time for a visit of ceremony; candles were always lighted, there was a special form of knock, and the guests sat round the room in a prim circle.
Perhaps the "cats, dogs, and pitchforks" alluded to before had spoiled the pink and buff suit which had roused the scorn of Mrs Jane. The colours in which Mr Welles chose to make his debut at White-Ladies were violet and white. A violet velvet coat, trimmed with silver lace, was fastened with little silver hasps; white satin breeches led downwards to violet silk stockings with silver clocks, girt below the knee with silver garters. A three-cornered hat, of violet silk and silver lace, was heavily adorned with white plumes, and buttoned up at one side with a diamond. He wore shoes with silver buckles and very high red heels, white-silver fringed gloves, a small muff of violet velvet; and carried in his hand a slender amber-headed cane. Being a London beau of fashion, he was afflicted with a slight limp, and also with intense short-sightedness, which caused him to wear a gold eye-glass, constantly in use—except when alone, on which occasions Mr Welles became suddenly restored to the full use of his faculties.